In Covering Islam, Edward Said examined the role of American media in portraying the Islamic world as a “hostile” environment. Americans viewed “the faith and culture of Muslims as a threat” and “associated them with terrorism, violence and fundamentalism” (xxi). Culture influenced academic studies. American journalists did not understand the language of the area and relied on biased academic studies for their understanding of the Islamic world. Said also examined the “American experts” on the Islamic world and America’s response to its geopolitical and economic interests.
Near the end of the eighteenth century, two views of thought existed about the world. Orientalist thought “divided the world into two unequal parts, the larger one called the Orient and the other, also known as Occident or the West” (4). Many believed “Islam was a demonic religion” (5). Christianity served as the dominant religion in the West. Islam, however, became more of an “energetic version of Christianity in the East” (5).
In the 1970s, Western and “American responses to the Islamic world became relevant, troubled and problematic” (l). Issues, such as the “shortage of energy supply, Arab and Persian Gulf oil, OPEC, the dislocating effects on Western societies of inflation, the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis created problems for American society” (l). Americans associated higher cost of “imported oil with a cluster of unpleasant things: American dependence on foreign oil and communication from the Middle East and the Persian Gulf to Americans that energy was no longer ours” (36). Americans began to designate Islam as the “number one enemy of the American way of life” (40).
Representation of Islam showed reporters “unwillingness to report political processes, an imposition of patterns and values that are ethnocentric, an avoidance of detail and an absence of genuine perspective” (44). “All of this can be traced to how Islam was reflected and served in Western media” (44). These “interpretations of Islam” led to a series of consequences. Americans received their “news about Islam through television and radio networks, the daily newspapers, the mass-circulation of news magazines and films” (47). Thus, the “mass media reflected powerful interests of society” (47). Journalists, news agencies and networks decided on what was to be portrayed and how it was portrayed” (50).
In A Test of the News, Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz used the New York Times to study the objectivity of news in coverage of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Newspapers discussed Russia’s military strength on the eastern front. The battles, however, proved Russia’s “strength to be false” (161). The Times relied on the “official purveyors of information. They indicated opinion, they were controlled by special purpose and they were not trustworthy news” (171). The Times also “did not take seriously the equipment of the correspondent” (172). The Russian policy of the editors of the Times influenced their news columns. Thus, according to Said, American media corporations “serve and promote —America and even the West— they all have the same central consensus in mind” (52). News organizations, such as CBS, Time, the New York Times and the Associated Press, reached the most people. “These corporations furnish the basis for what participating newspapers, local television stations and radio stations distribute to their immediate clientele” (54). Thus, as a consequence, Americans received a “scant opportunity to view the Islamic world except reductively and coercively” (66). The “Princess Episode” justified the idea that the American media system shaped the way journalists reported and portrayed Islam and the Arab society (69).
In November 1979, Iranians took over the American embassy in Tehran and Iranian students held Americans hostage. “Iran took up much of the nightly network news immediately after the embassy was seized” (82). Iranian officials “indicated it was their plan to use the media to turn the American people against the policy of their government” (83). The Iran crisis represented “American relations with the Muslim world” (83). The media coverage of the crisis shaped Americans’ attitudes toward Islam. Media outlets, such as ABC, CBS and the New York Times, provided Americans with misleading information and images. American journalists lacked many opportunities to provide balanced media coverage of the Iran crisis and Islam.
Academics in the United States, public policy and legislation played a role in understanding Islam and the Middle East. “Knowledge and coverage of the Islamic world are defined in the United States by geopolitics and economic interests on — for the individual — an impossibly massive scale, aided and abetted by a structure of knowledge production that is almost as vast and unmanageable” (154). As academics and politics in America shaped the “orthodox coverage” of Islam, Said believed in the idea of “antithetical knowledge” (157). Antithetical knowledge referred to “academics and experts who wrote in opposition to the prevalent orthodoxy” (157). “Producers of the antithetical view consisted of young scholars in Islamic studies, older scholars in Islamic studies and writers, activists and intellectuals unaccredited in Islamic studies” (158). According to Said, despite their lack of expert certification, the writers, activists and intellectuals group understood “certain dynamics within the postcolonial world and hence within large portions of the Islamic world” (160). They looked beyond the attitudes of the media and the government. “They actively sought out knowledge” (160). Thus, facts “get their importance from what is made of them in interpretation” (163).
In Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman explained that television “changed all aspects of public life (education, religion, politics and journalism) into entertainment” (vii). Television images “undermined other forms of communication, particularly the written word” (vii). Technology, such as customized TV programming, flat-screens and HDTV, made “content so abundantly available” (vii). Television overwhelmed people with information until “what was truly meaningful was lost (Aldous Huxley belief) and people no longer cared about what they lost as long as they were being amused” (vii).
Television served as a metaphor for entertainment. Television used “visual imagery” to express “discourse” and spark conversations between people (7). As television grew as a “medium” in the second half of the twentieth century, it led to the “decline of the Age of Typography” (8). The rise of the “Age of Television” shifted content and meaning of public discourse (8). Thus, according to Postman, languages served as our media. “Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors created the content of our culture” (15).
The “media-metaphor shift” led public discourse to become “dangerous nonsense” (16). Television became a “carrier of important cultural conversations” (16). As a culture moved from “orality to writing to printing to television, its ideas of truth changed with it” (24). Truth served as a “product of conversation man has with himself about and through the techniques of communication he invented” (24). Intelligence “allowed one the ability to grasp the truth of things” (25). What a “culture meant by intelligence derived from the character of its forms of communication” (25). Changes to the “symbolic environment resembled changes in the natural environment, until a critical mass was achieved” (27). According to Postman, electronic media “changed the character of our symbolic environment” (28). As typography “moved to the periphery of American culture and television took its place at the center, the value of public discourse declined” (29).
From the seventeenth to the late nineteenth century, the “printed word and an oratory of the printed word dominated American society” (41). “There were no movies to see, radios to hear, photographic displays to look at or records to play” (41). Instead, people enjoyed the oratory of debates, such as the Lincoln-Douglas debates. These debates “served as preeminent examples of political discourse and illustrated the power of typography” (48). Unlike a television-based culture, the “Age of Exposition” put forward a “definition of intelligence that gave priority to the objective, rational use of the mind and encouraged forms of public discourse with logically ordered content” (51). The Age of Show Business, however, replaced the Age of Exposition. Communication and transportation created a “new metaphor of public discourse” (64). The invention of the telegraph eliminated the “problem of space, created the idea of context free information and made information in to a commodity” (65). The telegraph “moved information but did not collect, explain it or analyze it” (69). The rise of photography and television created a “peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, popped into view for a moment, then vanished again; but like a peek-a-book, it was endlessly entertaining” (77). Television, according to Postman, became “our culture” (79).
Television became the “principal mode of knowing” in society (92). Television staged the world and it became the model for how the world would be staged” (95). The 1984 US Presidential Debates supported the Age of Television. “The men were less concerned with giving arguments than with giving off impressions, which is what television does best” (97). Post-debate commentary avoided evaluation of the candidates’ ideals.
Music played a role in the rise of television. All television news programs “began, ended or punctuated with music somewhere in between” (102). As television and radio adopted the “now…this” phrase, the two mediums acknowledged the fact that the world was mapped by speeded-up electronic media that lacked order and meaning” (99). “We are “now thoroughly adjusted to the Now…this world of news—a world of fragments, where events stand alone, stripped of any connection to the past, or to the future or to other events” (110).
Television also played a role in understanding religion, politics and education in American society. Everything that made religion “historic, profound and sacred to human activity was stripped away; no sense of spiritual transcendence” (117). Politics became a direct form of show business thorough the use of television commercials. “On television, the politician did not “offer the audience an image of himself, as he offers himself as an image of the audience” (134). Education shows, such as Sesame Street, encouraged children to “love television instead of school and contributed to the idea that teaching and entertainment are inseparable” (144, 146).
“America gave the world a clear glimpse of the Huxleyan future through the Age of Television” (156). Postman said people must rely on schools to fix this issue. “It is a task of the schools to assist the young in learning how to interpret symbols of culture” (163). Postman also said it is important that people become aware of what television is. Thus, people will understand television and not let it control them in laughter.
In A Free and Responsible Press, Robert D. Leigh examined the report about the Commission on Freedom of the Press and discussed how the report evaluated the media on their responsibilities of helping Americans form their public opinion. The Commission, formed in 1942, discussed “the responsibilities of owners and managers of the press and their obligations to the press” (vii). The Commission argued that a “civilized society is a working system of ideas” (vii). The “agencies of mass communication” must show “hospitality to ideas which their owners do not share” (viii). “A press unhindered by the government can contribute to freedom” (253).
The Commission explained the dangers and the principles of the press. As the press continued to grow, it decreased “the proportion of the people who could express their ideas” (1). Users of the press did not serve the needs of society. Directors of the press began to “engage in practices that would lead to regulation or control” of the press (1). These “dangers” limited the idea of a free society for men “to gain knowledge of the world and of one another” (4). “Freedom of the press is essential to political liberty. Where freedom of expression exists, the beginning of a free society and a means for every extension of liberty are already present” (6). A free society must include public discussion. Public discussion “elicits mental power and breadth; it is essential to the building of a mentally robust public” (9). The government “must set limits on its capacity to interfere, regulate or suppress the voices of the press or to manipulate the data on which public judgment is formed” (8).
The press must incorporate accuracy in providing information to society. The press should “provide society with a “truthful, comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in a context way which gives them meaning” (20). The press must “serve as a forum for the exchange of comment and criticism, project the opinions and attitudes of the groups in the society to one another, present and clarify the goals and values of society and gain full access to the day’s intelligence” (21, 23, 27, 28). Media coverage must represent the area. In Killing the Messenger, Tom Goldstein explained how the media “failed to report adequately on the causes and consequences of the disturbances” of the 1967 Negro race riots (254). The media overplayed violence and gave too much time to emotional events and militant leaders. Reporters and editors “failed to evaluate and present the news” (256). The press must practice “responsible performance” in making sure repeated images totally represent the social group” (26).
New instruments and technology “increased the range, variety and speed of mass communication” (30). Technology led to the rise of big business operations and created “greater diversity of communication” (36). The communication revolution, however, decreased “the number of units” to communicate (37). “76 chains — national, regional, and local — owned 375 dailies altogether, or 25 percent of all English-language dailies” (43). Eight major motion picture companies controlled the “theaters in the best city locations with the largest audiences, the highest admissions and the longest runs” (42). Companies sought the advantages to “operate on a large scale using new technology” (48). Thus, the rise of monopolistic practices “made it hard for new ventures to enter the field of mass communication” (49).
“Private enterprise” altered the “performance” of the press in society. The press “emphasized “the exceptional than the representative, the sensational rather than the significant” to attract the maximum audience (55). The press, according to Leigh, is “caught between its desire to please and extend its audience and its desire to give a picture of events and people as they really are” (57). In the 1967 race riots, newspapers “printed more stories dealing with disorders or racial troubles in other cities” (261). Television reporters “overplayed stories, displayed speculation about rumors, stressed interviews with whites in predominantly Negro neighborhoods and emphasized control scenes rather than riotous action” (263).
The Commission believed the press should “self-regulate itself for the performance in the public interest” (69). Groups, such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Federal Communication Commission, regulated television and radio. The American Newspapers Publishers Association represented newspaper owners and the American Society of Newspaper Editors “adopted a code of ethics for newspaper editors” (74). The “code of ethics” made them responsible “carriers of news and discussion” (74). In other mediums, such as books and magazines, self-regulation did not exist. Professionalization served as an important tool for public service. Unlike in professions, such as law and medicine, mass communication “lacked the responsibility of personal responsibility” (77).
The Commission proposed “13 recommendations for the government, the press and the public. According to Goldstein, the press should incorporate information officers, general guidelines and codes and an Institute of Urban Communications. These recommendations “taken together, give some indication of methods by which the press may become accountable and, hence, remain free” (105).
In Public Opinion, Walter Lippmann explained the “difficulties of public opinion” in a democratic society (19). The power of “public opinion became greater than that of the legislative branch of government” (xi). The reporting and the protection of public opinion sources became the basic problem of democracy” (xi). Instead of the “omnicompetent citizen” making reasoned judgments” on public issues, people created their public opinion based on “the pictures inside their heads of human beings, the pictures of themselves, of others, of their needs, purposes and relationships” (18). Those “pictures” misled men in their dealings with the world outside. The pictures led to individuals creating stereotypes that identified with their own interests.
The world that people deal with politically “is out of reach, out of sight and out of mind” (18). Great men, according to Lippmann, “exist to the public through a fictitious personality” (5). Fictions and symbols played an important role in understanding human communication. Individuals experience the world by “exploring, reporting and imagining” (18). Instead of experiencing real events, people learned to “see with their mind vast portions of the world that they could never see, touch, smell, hear or remember” (18). Thus, people began to create “trustworthy pictures inside their heads” to form their public opinion” (18).
Certain factors limited people from getting access to information and altered the way people understood the world. Censorship and privacy presented “barriers” that intercepted information between the public and the event (29). The monopolizing of cost and available supply, the income of an individual and the social elite “presented distinct limits upon the circulation of ideas” (30). Other limitations, such as time, the poverty of language and the unconscious constellations of feeling, limited the spread of ideas. “These limitations upon our access to the environment combine with the obscurity and complexity of the facts themselves to thwart clearness and justice of perception, to substitute misleading fictions for workable ideas” (49).
Stereotypes, prejudices and self-interests affected the public opinion of people and how people viewed the world. A report consists of the “joint product of the knower and the known, in which the role of the observer is always selective and usually creative” (54). Thus, the “facts people see depend on where they are placed, and the habits of their eyes “(54). People learn about the world before they see it. They imagine most things before they experience them. People accept stereotypes to decrease their effort of thought and defend their positions and self-respect in society. “The stereotype preserves people from the bewildering effect of trying to see the world steadily and see it whole” (75). Moral codes influenced the perceptions of individuals. Public opinion, Lippmann said, “is primarily a moralized and codified version of the facts” that varies from one person to the next (82). “People accept these facts, whether true, realistic, good, evil or desirable, through stereotypes, from earlier experiences that carry over into judgment of later ones” (107).
Lippmann discussed the idea of establishing common will. People think differently about the pictures in their heads. According to Lippmann, many “variables affect individuals’ impression of the invisible world” (125). Ideas and universal symbols allowed people to express their individual opinions. Some “images fade but the emotion from those images continue” (131). Public figures used symbols, such as “Law and Order, Justice and Humanity, to amalgamate the emotion of conflicting factions” (133). People use symbols to “make connections with the outer world through certain beloved and authoritative persons” (142). Authorities or “a small number of heads present a choice to a large group of people” for agreement or approval in society (148). Leaders often think they uncovered a program that existed in the minds of their public. Thought, however, represents a function of an organism and a mass is not an organism. “The mass obscures the fact because suggestion” alters their beliefs (155).
Lippmann discussed the image of democracy. According to Lippmann, the “democrat knows that in dealing with an unseen environment decisions are manifestly settled at haphazard” (171). The public opinion of any community about the outer world “consisted of a few stereotyped images arranged in a pattern deduced from their legal and their moral codes, and animated by the feeling aroused by local experiences (174). The way people exhibit their interest, according to Lippmann, “will not hinder the functions of a functional society” (193). Thus, no individual will arrive at sound public opinions on the whole business of government. “It is extremely doubtful, according to Lippmann, that “many would wish to take the time to form an opinion on any and every form of social action that affect them” (197).
Newspapers and organized intelligence played a role in shaping the public opinion of individuals. People felt that the “newspaper should serve them with the truth however unprofitable the truth may be” (203). News “signalized an event” (226). “Truth brought to light the hidden facts” (226). According to Lippmann, the intelligence system serves as source of general information. “It is an instrument of the man of action, of the representative charged with the decision, of the worker at his work, and if it does not help them, it will help nobody in the end” (250).
In Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture, William Leach examined the “crucial formative years” of consumer capitalism in the United States (xiii). From 1880 to 1930, Americans transitioned from a society based on “traditional family or community values to a consumer capitalism society” (3). Capitalism created a “secular business and market oriented culture that featured “acquisition and consumption as a means of achieving happiness, the cult of the new, the democratization of desire and money as a significant measure of all value in society” (3). Leach argued that consumer culture “diminished American public life, denied Americans access to other ways of conceiving life and limited Americans insight that might have endowed their consent to the dominant culture with real democracy” (xv).
Before1880, the “culture in America consisted of an agrarian economy, republicans, religion; and most people — white people— controlled their own property of land” (8). By the end of the 19th century, however, the “Land of Comfort became the Land of Desire” (6). Investment banking, big businesses and department stores contributed to the rise of middle-class consumers. The Industrial Revolution led to the mass production of goods. Advertising, display and decoration, fashion, style, design and consumer service emerged as methods of marketing as new technology and machines produced goods quickly” (37).
“New visual media” emerged as a way to entice consumers early in the 20th century (38). Ad pictures, billboards, electrical signs, and glass show windows helped the “movement of goods” (40). Instead of simple copy advertisements, businesses favored advertisements that “appealed to the eye” (43). Merchants, such as Robert Ogden and John Wanamaker, hired “trained artists to prepare their ads” (52). Artists, such as Maxfield Parrish and L. Frank Baum, created pictorial and window advertisements that fostered year-round desire, caught “consumers’ attention and inspired a measure of loyalty” (60).
American businessmen began to use a “network of services” for personal and public benefit. Charge accounts and installment buying “eased the pain of purchasing” for consumers. (112). Retailers tailored installment buying to fit the needs of the middle-class. Between 1895 and 1915, industrial workers “revolted against industries and farmers organized populist uprisings” (117). Thus, businessmen “pursued a better public image” through consumer service (121). This allowed business employees to satisfy the consumers’ needs and desires. Merchants trained employees to treat consumers as “special people” (131). Other services, such as the return-goods policy, the free delivery system, tips, music and the inclusion of modern in department stores appealed to consumers’ fantasies. These services, however, also separated middle-class consumers from lower-class workers.
Public and private institutions contributed to the consumer culture. “Art schools, colleges and universities ‘opened their doors to serve the educational needs of business” (154). The rise of big department stores led to the creation of special subway stations and “the rerouting of bus and train stations to satisfy business institutions” (174). Museums helped spread the idea of “beauty to the masses” 173). Congress created government agencies, such as the Federal Reserve Board and Federal Trade Commission, to aid “business by facilitating the movement of goods outward in to foreign countries” (178). These corporations also favored and contributed to advertising in businesses.
Leach discussed the religious responses about moral issues of consumerism. Some people combined consumer pleasure with the idea of traditional Christian views. Mind curers believed “they could shape their own destiny and find total happiness through desire, consumption and abundance” (227). Political economists, such as Simon Patten, believed that ‘the constant addition of new goods into people’s budgets made more ethical individuals” (238). Thus, according to the law or marginal utility, individuals will “consume more of a commodity, each increment will become less, inducing the consumer to buy other goods” (238).
In the early 1920s, the rise of “consumptionism” took place in American society. Samuel Strauss, a journalist and political philosopher, argued that “consumptionism emphasized the standard of living above all other virtues” (268). The increase in the mass production of consumer goods, the rise of chain stores and the power of advertising “enticed people to buy what was not wanted” (268). Installment buying, charge accounts and small loans “engulfed consumers in a sea of easy credit” (299). As a result, businesses implemented a new managerial role to entice consumers. “Greater investment in mass production required greater skill in mass seduction” (298). Thus, businesses “sold consumers their dream” (299).
As business demands grew, Herbert Hoover believed that the government should play a role in creating “permanent prosperity” (355). By 1929, the “American capitalist culture of consumption had finally taken root” (378). Many legacies of this time period exist in society today, but as Leach stated, “America’s standard of living is declining” (390). “The fundamental American conviction that the next generation will be better off than the one prior to it is on the brink of being dashed” (390).
In Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers, Michael Schudson explained that social and political structures in society shaped the idea of “objectivity” in the American press. During the 19th and 20th centuries, changes in “economic, political, social and cultural life” affected how journalists gathered and reported the news (11). Schudson traced the history of the newspaper industry to show how the free market economy and democratic society changed the state of journalism. The United States involvement in wars and the rise of new journalism occupations also altered the role of reporters, shaped the way reporters presented the news in society and proposed a modern concept of objectivity that journalists use today.
The 1830s marked a revolution in American journalism. The circulation of penny press newspapers led to the rise of the middle class. Known for its declining use of editorials, penny papers “made their way by circulating and advertising, rather than trusting to subscription fees and subsidies from political parties” (18). As the penny newspapers circulated in major urban cities, such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, the “democratization of business and politics brought “equality” in social life (31). Literacy rates increased, and as Frank Luther Mott wrote in his chronicle American Journalism, newspapers “increased the popular interest in public affairs and technological advances of the press reduced the price of the paper and provided “access to the poorer people” (42). This revolution laid the foundation for the “belief in facts, a distrust of the reality or the objectivity of values” in society (60).
One newspaperman remembered the 1890s as the “Age of the Reporter” (65). Reporters became “actors in the drama of the newspaper world. Editors hired reporters to tell the facts. Theodore Dreiser recalled from his editor at the Chicago Globe, the first “paragraph of the news story must inform the reader of who, what, how, when and where” (78). Young reporters, however, wanted to state the facts and “add color and enterprise” to their stories (81). Progressive era reporters, as McClure stated, “concentrated on telling an absorbing story” and presenting a moral element, but they began to “question the facts they uncovered” (87).
The way that journalists presented the news became a focal point of discussion as news reporting continued to grow at the end of the 19th century. According to George Mead, “the newspaper served as a guide to living not so much by providing facts as by selecting them and framing them” (89). Thus, two styles of journalism emerged. Joseph Pulitzer used sensationalism and illustrative advertisements in the New York World newspaper. While Pulitzer believed in the concept to inform, to interpret and to entertain people, Adolph Ochs bought the New York Times with the idea of “printing all of the news without context” and catering to the elite in society (120). “With the economy becoming more social with consumer goods, the rise in population, the expansion of manufacturing and the rise of transportation” separating the rich from the poor, this led journalists to “no longer believe in facts or information” in the 20th century (120).
After World War I, “leaders in journalism and other social sciences questioned the democratic market society” (122). The rise of public relations affected the way reporters presented the facts in the news. Public relations “helped shape the public” and as Ivy Lee stated, the effort to “propagate ideas was acceptable as long as the public knew who was responsible for it” (135). This threatened the idea of reporting because “news appeared to become a reprinting of the facts” from press releases and public bureaus (138). The government began to rely on public relations to serve as the voice in controlling public opinion. As reporters became victims to wartime propaganda, the “Newspaper Editors forced reporters to emphasize the meaning of the news and the context of events, such as the war, the Great Depression, and the New Deal “(148).
The Paris Peace Conference in 1919 “symbolized the modern relationship between the government and the press” in the 1960s (164). The government began to control the press. Schudson stated, “for the government to keep information from the press and for the government to lie outright placed the government beyond embarrassment” (173). The distrust of the press and the government during the Vietnam War led to the rise of citizens and journalists being more critical and interpretative of the news.
To define objectivity, Schudson stated, “political assumptions determine the content of a news story, the form of news stories incorporate bias and the process of newsgathering constructs an image of reality which reinforces official viewpoints” (185). In this view, objectivity is a set of “concrete conventions” which persist because they reduce the extent of what reporters can write (186). Thus, reporters must trust themselves, take risks and pledge their commitment for seeking the truth of society.
In the Myth of Digital Democracy, Matthew Hindman argued against political scholars’ idea that the Internet truly democratized American politics. Unlike political scientists, who felt the Internet would “expand the range of ideas and amplify the political voice” of ordinary citizens, Hindman argued that “cyber politics mirrors traditional politics” (6, 9). He argued that the Internet’s “infrastructure” limited the amount of content that citizens saw (16). He used data to show the inequality of access to political information on the Web.
Hindman explained that the link structure of the Web determined the information people saw. Links allow people to visit different websites. According to Hindman, “the more paths there are to a site, the more traffic it will receive” (15). Some websites remain at the top of search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, because of their visibility on the web. Web developers use HTML codes to build websites. The websites “say nothing about search engines” and “these tools determine what users will observe” (15). With a “winners-take-all pattern” in politics, a few large websites control the amount of political information disseminated across the web (56). “It may be easy to speak in cyberspace, but it remains difficult to be heard” (142).
Hitwise’s clickstream data explained the role of search engines in directing traffic to politically relevant sites. “Hitwise’s primary measure is the number of visits a site receives” (60). As larger websites continue to promote traffic and serve as major outlets for citizens, other independent websites, political news audiences and bloggers continue to remain invisible by the majority on the web. “Many Americans maintain a blog but “only a few dozen political bloggers get as many readers” as a college newspaper “(103). Hindman also explained that blogs did not serve as a fair platform to discuss American politics. He also stated that blogs gave “educational, professional and technical elites new influence in society” (103).
Howard Dean’s political campaign changed citizens’ views about online organizing and fund-raising. Hindman found that more liberals “dominate the audience for politics online and liberal sites attract greater levels of traffic” (25). From Dean’s campaign, citizens witnessed “the long list of supportive blogs and the number of citizens willing to sign up as supporters on the Dean Web site” (27). While ordinary citizens volunteered and many liberals gave donations for Dean’s campaign, Hindman argued that the “campaign for resources changed but the campaign for votes did not” (37). This idea explained Hindman’s concept that smaller represented groups’ voices often remain unheard in politics.
Hindman observed different categories of online content to convey that many citizens do not care about political information. Nearly “10.5 percent of Web traffic goes to adult or pornographic, 9.6 percent to Web Service mail, 7.2 percent to search engines, 2.9 to news and media and 0.12 percent to political websites” (61). The Internet “increased the political knowledge of citizens already interested in politics” as oppose to “affecting the apathetic” (10).
While many think the Internet is a “narrowcasting medium that levels the playing field, eliminates gatekeepers and gives voices” to the marginalized groups, Hindman showed that the Internet did not democratize American politics (38).
In The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin wrote about his life with the idea of improving “the circumstances of mankind” (17). Written during the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, he wrote his autobiography with the thought of adding value to the “art of living and the best means of cultivating the intellect and character” (19). Unlike “university-trained scholars who wrote to please the critics” during this time, Franklin wrote his autobiography to motivate people to improve their lives through hard work, to educate people on the importance of living a virtuous life and to show people that knowledge serves as a huge asset to growth and rise in the hierarchy of society (18).
Franklin provided an account of his childhood experiences and his growth as man in Part One of The Autobiography. He stated that he wrote about his childhood experiences to inform his son of the “circumstances of his life” (43). Franklin also wrote about his past because there were things he wanted to correct, but he realized that he could not do it. Thus, he decided to make a “recollection of his life” (44). Born as the fifteenth of 17 children in a middle-class family, Franklin noticed his interest for writing at an early age. Instead of working in the trade business all of his life, Franklin embraced the spirit of the Enlightenment. His thirst for knowledge and his drive to improve his writing and debate skills put him on a platform to achieve success in many areas. As Franklin grew older, his writing led him to explore the ideals of “truth, sincerity and integrity” (117). This served as the basis for his philosophical and moral approach to improve on the issues that mankind faced in society.
Part II of The Autobiography began with two letters, one from Mr. Abel James and the other from Benjamin Vaughn. These letters gave Franklin not only the confidence to continue his autobiography, but they served as the basis for him to explain the importance of “virtues” to mankind. (149). Franklin wanted “moral perfection” (148). He created a list of 13 virtues that he thought would help him reach his goal. Franklin, however, did not reach his goal of perfection. He learned “a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself to keep his friends in countenance” because “a perfect character might be envied and hated” (156). Franklin’s ability to write about his pride clashing with his humility illustrated the importance of living a good life in light of achieving success, something that still limits people from reaching their greatest potential in society today.
Early in his life, Franklin valued the concepts of seeking knowledge for the betterment of society. In Parts Three and Four of The Autobiography, Franklin’s writing and debate skills led to his rise as a political and public affairs leader in society. He started an idea of creating the international Party for Virtue that “focused on the great affairs of the world, the Wars, Revolutions, the power of God and immorality of the Soul” (162). He wrote Poor Richard’s Almanac as a reference for common people, saying “it is hard for an empty sack to stand upright” (164). Other publications he wrote, such as the “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth and Plain Truth”, led to the building of the University of Pennsylvania and expand colonial defense in the Seven Years War (183). From providing light, inventing the fire brigade, working as the Postmaster General of the United States to finding dollars to start a hospital, Franklin fulfilled his goal of improving the living conditions of mankind through the use of written word. “That as we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously” (192).
While literacy was low in the 18th century, Franklin’s autobiography explained the ideas today’s society and provided evidence that through knowledge and hard work pave the way for success in society.
In the book Poetry and Police, Robert Darnton explained that orality played an important role in understanding the history of communication. He stated that one must reconstruct “orality” as the missing element to understand communication before “texting, twittering, uploading, downloading, encoding, decoding and talking on the phone” existed in modern society (Darnton, 1). Darnton studied the messages encoded in poems to explain the importance of oral communication, to show how Parisians communicated information in a semiliterate society and to demonstrate how these poems shaped the Parisians’ public opinion about the government in society.
King Louis XV and other elite officials of the state controlled the Parisian government and the information received by the Parisians during the 18th century. In the spring of 1749, Parisian authorities arrested Francois Bonis (The Affair of the Fourteen: L’Affaire des Quatorze Operation) for distributing a seditious poem humiliating the king for his government policies, his foreign affairs and his mistress. Darnton outlined how the poetry served as a powerful tool to explain the public affairs in Paris. Bonis “recited the poem in the presence of a few persons” (Darnton, 11). Other people in society began to learn about the corrupt ways of the Parisian government. They learned by “copying poems, trading them for similar scraps, dictating to more copyists, memorizing, declaiming, printing underground tracts, creating popular tunes and singing those tunes” (Darnton, 11). Written poetry and music allowed people to understand and relay information in small groups. As more poems became intertwined with other poems from people “adding and subtracting stanzas” and modifying phrasing, the public opinion became a hot topic in the Parisian government. This began to undermine the power of the state, limiting the king’s control in keeping people from being informed about corruption of the Parisian government.
“Students, clerks and priests” made up the small groups that distributed poetry about the Parisian government and its affairs. As the Renaissance began to impact society, common people became more aware of the issues in society. “Louis XV became more sensitive to what the Parisians said about him, his mistress and ministers” (Darnton, 41). Danton explained how the rise of music shaped the public opinion of the Parisians and how it circulated beyond the political courts. “By means of all these songs and satirical pieces, this strategy meant politics could not be restricted to the court. It opened up another dimension to the power struggle in Versailles: the king’s relations with the French people, the perception of events outside the circle, and the influence of such views on the conduct of affairs” (Darnton, 42).
While censorship existed in the mid 1700s, poems served as the framework for literacy about the issues taking place in the Parisian government. Elite individuals knew about these issues in society. Common people in the markets of Paris relied on poems and their encoded messages to educate them about the government. Darnton stated, “While Louis sleeps away in the bosom of shame, And is shamefully smitten with a lowly woman, He forgets in her arms our tears and our scorn” (Darnton, 60). Like newspapers in modern society, poetry and oral communication helped Parisians understand the government and shape their opinion about the government.
Darnton justified his thought that “marvels of communication technology in the present have produced a false consciousness about the past-even a sense that communication has no history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the days of television and the Internet” (Darnton, 1). The written “encoded” messages in poems, the recitation of poetry and the incorporation of music to this poetry foreshadowed the modern day use of communication
In the book Four Theories of the Press, Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm explained that social and political structures affect how the press operates in a society. The three authors wrote essays that outlined the principles of the Authoritarian Theory, the Libertarian Theory, the Social Responsibility Theory and the Soviet Communist Theory. Their essays showed how society played a role in controlling these principles. Their essays also highlighted differences among the theories and provided reasons why the press operates differently based on the social and political structures.
The Authoritarian Theory began in the latter portion of the Renaissance in England. At the time, the monarch and the elite individuals of the “state” controlled all the information received by the people in society. Siebert summarized this theory as “the nature of man, the nature of society and the state, the relation of man to the state and the nature of knowledge and of truth” (Siebert, 10). The press worked in favor of the state and not the individual. The state held the power to control whether or not a man could engage in private or public ownership to share information. The state granted special permission to a select few to engage in sharing information. Siebert summarized this theory referencing German philosopher Georg Hegel saying, “freedom meant he was not free but that his actions are determined by history and above all the Absolute Idea of the state” (Siebert, 14). As the Renaissance continued, the demand for printed materials increased and political power shifted in favor of a democratic government, leading to the rise of the Libertarian Theory.
The Libertarian Theory allowed man to seek the truth and allowed the press to serve as a partner to do so. The “Enlightenment” of the 17th and 18th centuries gave greater access to numerous forms of information such as physics, religion, history, law and politics. The government became a “trustee to which the people had delegated the authority and from which they could withdraw it” (Siebert, 43). Now, the government allowed a free market system to share information, to inform, to entertain, to sell and to serve as the “Fourth Estate to make sure the government did not overstep its boundaries or limit the unalienable rights of the people” (Siebert, 50-51).
The Social Responsibility Theory developed in the United States in the 20th century. Like the Libertarian Theory, technology and more access to information created a wave for new forms of media such as movies, radio, and television. “Industrialization accompanied a growing volume of advertising, a major support of newspapers, magazines and broadcasting” (Peterson, 77). Nevertheless, a small portion of owners and managers of media companies began to control the press, regulating what people watched, heard or read, eliminating the free enterprise concept. Siebert stated that “three television, four radio networks, three wire services shape a large part of the information in American homes” (Siebert, 4). With more media to gain information but fewer hands that regulated that information, the press now held the responsibility to inform people so they could make informed decisions about critical issues in society.
Rooted in the Marxist philosophy, the Soviet Communist Theory emerged from the principles of the Authoritarian Theory. Schramm explained how the Soviet press existed to advocate for the Communist Party. Schramm detailed the differences in the American press and the Soviet press, providing direct contrasts of two. “Democracy from the beginning defended the rights of men to disagree with their government,” (Schramm, 107). According to Schramm, the Soviet press served as instruments “for state power and Party influence” (Schramm, 121). While the American press informs, entertains, sells and checks the government; Schramm discussed the role of the media in the Soviet press. “ To the Soviet mind, the editor can pick and choose his reports and need not present an event soon after it occurs,” (Schramm, 134). While television and radio entertain audiences, “Soviet broadcasting will talk to its audiences. It will be the voice of the Party and of the government in the home” ( Schramm, 136).
The term “press” consists of different forms of media. With each theory, the press grew in size, volume and structure over centuries. However, the social and political structures of the society determined the growth and effectiveness of the press.